Well, I’m still running over a week behind on movie reviews ’round these parts. (The “good” news is we’ve hit a real lull in the quality of films out right now, this coming Thursday notwithstanding, so I actually haven’t fallen too far behind.) So, without further ado: James Mangold’s amiable summer lark, Knight and Day, which I caught over the July 4th weekend, may not have the brains of Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity, a vaguely similar caper-romance from last year. But it’s a breezy, competently-made and not-half-bad popcorn movie that delivers at about the level it promises. All in all, no harm, no foul. (I presume, on star power alone, it’s probably better than the very-similar-seeming Kutcher-Heigl vehicle Killers, also out now.)
To be sure, K&D — brought to us from the director of Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma — follows a rote and ultimately rather exhausting talk-chase-talk, chase-talk-chase pattern that eventually wears out its welcome. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I spent the last half an hour or so waiting for moments I’d seen in the trailer to happen, so I could figure out when the movie was wrapping up. (Ah, there’s the bike chase at last!) But, even by that late point, I was still reasonably entertained by the film and found myself grinning more often than not. After all, nobody involved with Knight & Day seems to be taking it very seriously, so why should we?
In fact, the movie’s sense of devil-may-care is weirdly infectious. I mean, everything from the plot (a very loose assemblage of chase scenes in gorgeous locales) to the moral economy (Tom Cruise’s character keeps happily drugging Cameron Diaz…um, what?) to even the title (Cruise is — eventually — Matthew Knight; Diaz is…June Havens. Where’s the Day?) has a strung-together, fast-and-loose feel to it, and usually I find that sort of sorry-we-couldn’t-be-bothered listlessness irritating in a summer flick. But, for whatever reason — wait, was I drugged too? — the movie still engenders basically positive feelings throughout. To take just one example, when Peter Sarsgaard’s clipped British accent kept slipping at the start of An Education, I found it distracting. Here, he gives arguably the worst Southern accent by an otherwise good actor since Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Cold Mountain, and I was was like, eh, bygones. Such is the power of dopey summer fun.
Now, I just said two paragraphs ago that nobody seems to be taking this movie seriously. But, as we all know, not-taking-himself-seriously is in fact very much srs bzns for Tom Cruise, who gives off an air of Method calculation even in ridiculous throwaway parts like Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder. Like Nicholson, Pacino, Eastwood, Streep, and countless other lead actors of a certain age and/or mileage, Cruise has long past reached the point where he’s always carrying the rest of his films with him as baggage.
But to his credit, Cruise is smart enough to know this, and, as with Jerry Maguire and Valkyrie, he trades on his career cachet here — both his old roles and his Scientology-inflected reputation as something of a freakshow — to sell the part of Roy Miller, roguishly charming, very-possibly insane superspy. Now, at this late date, most people have a sense of what they think of Cruise, and this film isn’t going to change that one way or another. Still, K & D suggests Cruise is pretty self-aware about his public rep, and can at least fake a sense of humor about it.
Meanwhile, the yin to Cruise’s yang here is Cameron Diaz, who, despite a lot of bad rom-commy roles over the years since her breakout in 1994’s The Mask, still has undeniable star wattage and a winsome, girl-next-door appeal that she uses to good effect here. (Charlie’s Angels and There’s Something about Mary aside, she probably peaked for me with 1999’s Being John Malkovich, even if that part ultimately resulted in a mean impersonation by Anna Faris in Lost in Translation.) And, inasmuch as anyone does these days, Diaz has a plausible romantic chemistry with Cruise here. She may be helped that this is her second go-round in a state-of-the-Cruise flick — They also starred together in Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe’s botched remake of Abre los ojos.
Put these two photogenic stars in a lot of beautiful locations, have them run, bike, drive, and fly away from bad guys for various reasons, throw in some quality, slumming-it character actors like Sarsgaard, Paul Dano of There Will Be Blood, and Viola Davis of Doubt in the margins, and simmer, and you have Knight & Day, an airy, perfectably respectable entrant in the hallowed tradition of summer AC-movies. (Come for the air conditioning, stay for the mildly diverting two hours of entertainment.) It’s not gonna light the world on fire, and I’m sure it will get old after being played into the ground by TNT some years hence. But at the very least, I liked it a good deal better than the last two Mission: Impossible forays.